There was so much going on in Austin while we were there, it was hard to fit it all in – South by Southwest, St. Patrick’s Day, spring break… but we managed somehow.
Day 3: Wednesday 15th March
After a slow start in the morning, we went to Torchy’s Tacos for our first American food experience. We had a selection of different tacos – including one containing waffles, eggs, fried chicken, bacon and maple syrup – at which point I think the words, ‘I love your country’ may have escaped my (Anna’s) lips. We also had ‘queso’, which was my first experience of American (pretending to be Mexican) cheese – it’s melted in a pot and you dip tortilla chips in it. I asked what kind of cheese the queso was made from and the answer was something like, ‘I don’t know, American cheese?’ This was my first introduction to the horror show that is American cheese – the creepy thing is IT’S NOT REAL CHEESE – it contains less than 50% real cheese a lot of the time so it’s classified as “cheese food” rather than actual cheese.
After our food experience we went to a T-mobile shop and bought phones and sim cards. The great thing is that the US (or at least Austin) seems to have got rid of contracts, so you can sign up to a monthly plan with a load of data without being tied in for a year or more like you would in the UK or other places in Europe. We got plans with big data allowances so that we could use our phones for sat nav (we are using Waze on our phones as sat nav for those who are interested) and also for music streaming in the car for those long drives. The big data allowance has also come in useful for tethering when we’ve been in places where the Wi-Fi isn’t very good. Phone plans seem to be a lot more expensive here than in the UK – we’re paying around $60 a month – but I got the phone for free 🙂
Then we decided to do something very un-American and went for a walk. We were vaguely looking for a grocery store so we could pick up some supplies but we ended up stumbling across some antebellum looking mansion:
and this trendy hipster shop:
which contained this:
After wandering around for almost an hour we eventually found a grocery store (look at us getting the lingo) – the rather upmarket and pricey Central Market, where we found the following delights:
In the evening we split up – Gwynnie met her friend from Japan, who she had met there once in 2010 and done some drunken karaoke with. They caught up at the Goodnight Bar, which has karaoke, pool and other activities. If you go there, try the Bees’ Knees cocktail – it’s delicious and has honey and lavender flavours!
I went with our friend T to Thundercloud Subs where I must have charmed the server with my British accent so much that when I was dithering over which of the two types of cheese to have, she said, ‘I’m just gonna go ahead and give you both because you’re so sweet.’ A compliment and free cheese – winner!
We then sat on some decks by a lake (a fake one – apparently there’s only one natural lake in Texas) and ate the food and then got some cheesecake from Mozart’s. That evening we met back up with Gwynnie again and went to The Draught House Pub & Brewery and had some local beer.
Day 4: Thursday 16th March
After another slow morning we went to the Blanton Museum of Art for a free yoga class with Adriene Mishler, known for the Youtube channel Yoga with Adriene. I’ve slowly discovered that most of my yoga-practising friends use her YouTube channel to do yoga at home, so I was pretty excited to go to a real life yoga class with her! We were actually pretty lucky to catch her because although she’s Austin-based she said she’s not often there, and she only does this particular yoga class every third Thursday, so we just happened to be in Austin at the right time. We stayed behind after the class to meet her like eager fangirls, and I am pleased to report that she is just as lovely in person as she comes across on her YouTube channel 😀
In the evening we had a real Texas experience and went to a rodeo. Our friend T, who is from Texas, had never even been to a rodeo and I think he thought we were kind of weird for getting so excited about it. My absolute favourite part was something that I didn’t even know they did at rodeos. It’s called mutton bustin’. They put tiny kids with helmets – like six or seven years old – onto the side of a sheep and the kid has to cling on for dear life as the sheep sets off running. It was amazing and hilarious. I wonder if this could somehow be extended to even smaller children, so you could have say toddlers on piglets and newborns on chickens or something.
The other parts of the rodeo were a little bit traumatising, especially when the calves were being lassooed by the legs until they fell over and then one of them was limping afterwards. But mutton bustin’ is definitely something I’d do for fun.
There was also a funfair at the rodeo which we explored afterwards, and we sampled some gross but awesome foods like funnel cake and fried oreos.
Day 5: Friday 17th March – St Patrick’s Day!
We got coffee at Summer Moon Coffee Bar and then had lunch at Central Market. While Gwynnie taught a lesson on Skype I went with our Texan friend T to Epoch Coffee.
We wanted to see some of South by Southwest festival – this is a huge annual music festival that goes on in Austin for ten days. Unfortunately tickets to the actual festival are super expensive – between $825 – $1650 – but fortunately there is also a lot of free stuff going on. South by Southwest has a list of free events on their website and you can also find random stuff on social media. We saw that Kate Nash was playing a free gig on the roof of Wholefoods so we went over but weren’t patient enough to wait in the queue (I’ve already seen her a few times at festivals so wasn’t too bothered), so we decided to go to another free event later on instead. In the meantime we went to Landbridge Cliff in Austin’s Greenbelt and did some cliff jumping.
I (Anna) was very apprehensive about this but T insisted it was perfectly safe. I was dubious when I saw that I could actually see the bottom of the river and it didn’t really look that deep. The cliff was maybe ten or twelve feet high. To reassure me our friend jumped in first to show me it was safe, but it still took me about half an hour and a lot of dithering to get up the courage to jump (in which time several people – mostly kids – had already jumped in before me). Of course it was fine once I’d done it. The water was cool and refreshing and I jumped in a second time and felt pretty proud of myself.
After that we went to Rudy’s for some Texan BBQ. If you say you’re there for the first time they let you sample a bunch of stuff before you choose. Instead of plates you just eat off paper – huge waste but saves on washing-up right? (The environment cries.)
In the evening we went to a free Prince tribute concert that was part of free South by Southwest. Allegedly Wyclef Jean was meant to be playing but I saw no sign of this. It was a good atmosphere – there was a big outdoor arena by the river with food and drink stands and a stage so it felt like a proper music festival of the kind we’re used to in Europe.
That finished around 10pm and we were ejected from the arena pretty promptly, so we went into downtown Austin where there were a lot of spring breakers and people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. We went to a bar and then were thinking of going dancing somewhere but left it a little too late – most clubs in Austin close at 2am and it was around 1.30am that we were trying to get in places. We heard of one club that was open until 4am, but since we had to get up early to drive the next day we decided that maybe it wasn’t the best idea, so opted instead to do some furious manic dancing in an alleyway for fifteen minutes to some music that was blaring out of a club that was upstairs in one of the buildings. We got home about 3am and had about four hours sleep before our drive to our next location the next day!